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15/03/2020 Comments are off Patrick Cole

Together, we will beat this

The outbreak of COVID-19 is hitting workers and communities hard across Europe. Stories and tweets from health workers under siege in the overwhelmed hospitals of Northern Italy are distressing for us all.

Across the world, Intensive Care Unit (ICU) beds are filling up, medical equipment, devices and supplies and personal protective equipment are being stretched. Ambulance professionals, firefighters, workers in the services industries including retail workers, public transport and aviation workers, and home care workers, are all doing jobs that bring them into constant contact with the public, making them, and those around them, more vulnerable.

For most, it is simply not an option to work from home as they are keeping our productions, services and supply chains going and our country moving.

Tens of thousands of SIPTU members in the private sector and public service are working during this unprecedented and evolving public health crisis. Our members, from the frontlines of our public services to factory floors making our food and keeping food supplies going, are pulling together and showing real leadership during these extremely challenging times.

SIPTU members are manufacturing critical medical devices that are saving lives every day. One out of every two ventilators are made right here in Ireland. Our members working in the pharmaceutical sector are manufacturing the prescription drugs and over the counter medications for millions of people the world over.

As a union, SIPTU is working to ensure that the necessary steps to protect workers, communities and families are taken and this crisis is not used to erode workers’ rights.

We will continue to work to ensure that essential services are maintained while the schools, colleges, creches and other public institutions are closed, and that the redeployment of public service staff prioritises the most critical frontline services. We have stressed the need for sustainable childcare support and facilities to make sure that our members can continue to lead our collective efforts to battle the coronavirus and restore our nation’s health.

Many workers in the private sector, including retail, hospitality, construction, manufacturing, arts and culture, and other services are facing uncertainty if they contract, or come in to contact, with the virus, as many employers do pay sick pay.

In response to trade union campaigning, the Government announced a new COVID-19 related Illness Benefit at a higher rate of €305 per week, to be paid from day one for workers. While this was welcomed, private sector workers and workers who are releant on social welfare benefits at this time will struggle to pay bills, rent and mortgages.

Creches, colleges and other workplaces may re-open on the 29th March but it is possible that the period of closure will extend further. However, what we do collectively over the coming weeks will play a huge part in how we as a community get through this crisis.

SIPTU members are encouraged to continue to play their part in containing the disease by accessing and following reliable up-to-date information, washing hands properly and frequently, maintaining social distancing and self-isolating, if required.

While taking all the necessary measures required by public health authorities to deal with the COVID-19 emergency, SIPTU will remain fully operational in order to represent your interests and to provide you with the full range of organisational supports.

The Workers’ Rights Centre and its Lo-Call helpline (1890 747 881) will continue to operate and to provide support to members.

A dedicated help line and email for SIPTU Health Division members will be available from Monday 16th March. Details will be posted on social media.

The outbreak of COVID-19 shines a light on how interconnected humanity really is. And while, when all this is said and done, some will demand stricter border controls and use this crisis to stoke the fires of xenophobia what this crisis really show us is that Europe and the world needs more co-operation and solidarity not isolation and scapegoating.

Together, we are stronger and together we will beat this.

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